Potatoes are a comfort food that have been enjoyed for centuries. From mashed potatoes at the Thanksgiving table, to French fries at the fair, to grandma’s special recipe for scalloped potatoes, almost every family has memories that surround this starchy vegetable.
Although they tend to get a bad rap for being too starchy, potatoes do have a lot of credentials that make them an important part of a healthy diet. Did you know that a medium sized baking potato boasts 45% of your daily value of Vitamin C, 10% of your daily value of Vitamin B6, trace amounts of many other vitamins, and plenty of potassium. Potatoes also contain antioxidants and are fat free.
How potatoes are cooked will vary from culture to culture and family to family, but there are certain staple recipes that have stood the test of time.
These are traditional potatoes at their best. Choose either white or yellow fleshed potatoes, depending on your preference. Scrub them, peel them, then cut them into chunks and place them in water over high heat until the water boils. Watch carefully because potatoes boil over easily and all that starch will create a huge mess. Once the water boils, turn the heat down and simmer until the potatoes can easily be pierced with a fork. When they are soft, drain them and mash them. A proper potato mashing tool will make this easiest, but other kitchen tools can also be used. For very smooth potatoes, use an electric mixer after mashing.
To make your potatoes creamier, add a small amount of milk before you mash them. This is also the time to add flavouring like garlic or rosemary to make your mashed potatoes extra special.
French fries are a part of most fairs and festivals. They are made by slicing potatoes into thin strips, usually with a special French fry cutter. They are then dunked in cold water, then drained and fried in hot oil. Depending on the restaurant or chip truck, the potatoes may be peeled before slicing, or the skin may be left on.
You can make French fries at home by slicing potatoes into thin strips, placing them in cold water, then frying them in a deep fryer. Make sure the potatoes are well drained before you put them in the oil, because water and oil doesn’t mix, and can make the frying dangerous.
You can also bake French fries in the oven. Place them on a baking sheet, sprinkle with vegetable oil and a little bit of salt, or other preferred seasoning. Bake at about 400-degrees for ten minutes, then take them out of the oven, stir them with a metal utensil, then cook for an additional ten minutes. Your individual oven may take more or less time, so watch carefully.
These days you can also make French fries using an air fryer. One that I purchased and fully enjoyed is the Air Fryer. There are many other manufacturers and models to choose from as well, depending on your needs and the amount of food you want to cook at one time.
Baked French fries won’t be identical in consistency to fried ones, but you’ll save a lot of fat by not immersing them in oil.
This is also the method used for baking hash browns or oven fries in the oven. Hash browns are French fries cut into smaller pieces, oven fries are usually made by slicing small potatoes and are round like the shape of the potato they came from.
You can also cook hash browns on the stovetop in a frying pan. Add a small amount of butter or oil to the pan, then cook over medium heat, stirring regularly until they are soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. If you’re not concerned about the fat, consider cooking your breakfast bacon first, then cook your hash browns in the bacon grease.
Make creamy scalloped potatoes by washing and peeling potatoes. Then slice them thinly. Place a layer of potatoes in the bottom of a baking dish. Sprinkle this layer with flour, salt, pepper and a few dots of butter. Add another layer of potatoes. Continue until you have several layers in your pan. Pour hot milk over everything, and bake until the potatoes are soft. This usually takes about an hour.
The quickest, easiest way to cook potatoes is to bake them. This also preserves the largest amount of nutrients. Simply scrub a selection of similar sized potatoes, poke them in several places with a fork, then place them on a baking sheet and cook them at about 350 degrees for about an hour.
If you want to make them even more special, you can slice open the baked potatoes, scoop out the flesh, season it with exciting ingredients like cheese, spices, bacon, or just about anything else that strikes your fancy, refill the shells, then put them back into the oven for a few more minutes. These are referred to as ‘twice baked’ potatoes.
Potato soups are usually milk based, and often chowder like. There are many different recipes and methods for making potato soups. Some involve cooking all the necessary ingredients, then running them through a blender or food processor to puree them into a soup. Others start with a chicken stock base, and end up being more of a vegetable soup because potatoes aren’t the main ingredient, though there may be a lot of potatoes in the soup.
Regardless of how you choose to cook and eat them, potatoes will meet your nutritional needs, and not cost you a fortune in the grocery store. Potatoes are also easy to grow in your own backyard, so consider them as a home grown vegetable next time you are planning your garden.